Wednesday, July 30, 2008

#33: Koyaanisqatsi


Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance
Directed by Godfrey Reggio
Written by Ron Fricke, Michael Hoenig, Godfrey Reggio, Alton Walpole
Released September 14, 1983

How do I put into words my thoughts on a movie that has no words, no plot, no characters, and nothing remotely resembling a typical Hollywood three act script?

Because it contains none of those things, you might think, "So, it's about nothing?" On the contrary; Koyaanisqatsi is about EVERYTHING. Nature. Technology. Humanity. For a movie with no words, it says a lot. It just depends on the viewer and what they want to hear.

Just short of ten years ago, I woke up on the couch at a friend's apartment, hung over and maybe still a bit buzzed from our activities the night before. As is typically the case when you wake up in someone else's home, you spend far too much time trying to figure out how to work their entertainment center. By the time I'd sussed out what channel the TV needed to be on and which remote control belonged to the cable box, I stumbled upon a jaw-droppingly beautiful film called Baraka, which I had never seen before. Soon, my friend's girlfriend joined me on the couch and we sat in awe, our mouths literally hanging open for most of the movie.

I remember at one point, this exchange:

Me: You can change the channel if you want. I just kind of stumbled on this.
Rachel: No, this is fucking awesome.
Me: Good.

Baraka is, without debate, the single most beautiful "movie" I have ever seen. It was the first DVD I ever owned, and the #1 film on my list of Movies I Wish I Could See in a Theater. Like Koyaanisqatsi, there is virtually no dialogue. There is no plot. But somehow, at least in what I take away from it, it encapsulates almost everything good, bad, heartbreaking and profoundly moving about life on planet Earth... and maybe a little bit beyond. I had never seen anything like it.

Of course, I had never heard of Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi or its two companion films, 1988's Powwaqatsi: Life in Transformation and Naqoyqatsi: Life as War. (Before people start saying that Baraka is a rip-off of Reggio's work, I must add that director and cinematographer Ron Fricke worked with Reggio, who refers to Fricke as "a genius.") Imagine seeing what would immediately become one of your favorite movies and then learning that you could head to the video store and see three other, similar movies that could help extend that mindblowing experience.

And "experience" is the key word here. This film (and others like it) is not a documentary. What you get out of it is left to your perception. You may feel like the juxtaposition of nature against scenes of of industry as a commentary on man's intrusion on the world. You may see those same images and see them more as synthesis, not dissonance. The important thing Reggio is doing here is showing you images you may never get to see in your everyday life, and trusting you enough to process this imagery as you see fit.

I've always felt like Baraka is a movie about the greatest vacation I will never get to take. It's my only window to the parts of the world I will never see. Honestly, I sometimes feel a profound sadness when watching that movie because I know that I will never have the time or the resources to experience these things in my lifetime.

But if it weren't for that movie, I would never have known most of those images, those places, those people even existed.

Final note: As I had previously written about For All Mankind, I suggest watching this movie with as few distractions as possible, on the largest television you can find.

For more on Koyaanisqatsi:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia
- The Wikipedia definition of the theory of pure cinema
- Information from Wikipedia on Baraka

Some footage from Koyaanisqatsi, reduced to shitty YouTube resolution:

Someone has divided Baraka into ten segments on YouTube. While again I must stress that this belongs on a TV or a theater screen, it's definitely worth checking out. Here's part 1:


sh said...

I have added all four movies mentioned in this review to my Netflix queue. Which reminds me, would you like to be friends on Netflix? We could be BNFF (Best Netflix Friends Forever)!!!

Dylan Gaughan said...

Sure. . . how do we do that?

I'm pretty sure I'm signed up under my email address.